Today I’ve been reading The Flight of the Falcon by Daphne Du Maurier. My introduction to Daphne Du Maurier’s books was Rebecca, when I was a teenager. I then read as many of her books as I could find –Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, The Scapegoat, The King’s General and Mary Anne.
Then I had a big gap in reading her books, although I re-read Rebecca several times, until I came across Margaret Forster’s biography Daphne Du Maurier, and I realised how many she had written that I hadn’t read. I bought ten of her books from the Book People (a remarkable bargain at £9.99) last year or the year before and apart from looking at each one, they’ve been sat on the bookshelves unread until yesterday, when I picked out at random The Flight of the Falcon.
I’m about half way through it now and finding it the sort of book that makes me want to read it all in one go; that’s not possible today and anyway I want to make it last as long as possible. It starts in Rome, when Armino Fabbio, a tour guide, comes across an old woman who he thinks is Marta, his family’s servant from his hometown of Ruffano. When she is found, murdered, he returns to Ruffano to find out if it was Marta. It is twenty years since he left and he finds that the town has changed. Du Maurier used Urbino as the model for Ruffano, and according to Forster’s biography the idea for this story came on a visit to Urbino with her son Kits and on another holiday with Tessa, her daughter when she came across an old woman asleep in the doorway of a church.
There’s a mystery about Armino’s family and the history of the town. Five hundred years earlier it had been terrorised by the Duke Claudio, known as the Falcon, and as Armino arrives the town and university are preparing an enactment of the uprising of Ruffano against the Falcon for the annual Festival play. There are surprises in store for Armino and he realises that his own family history is not what he thought it was.
I’ve resisted reading the introduction to The Flight of the Falcon, as I’ve often found that the plot is revealed in an introduction. Why anyone would think that is a good thing to do is beyond me. But I couldn’t help going back to Margaret Forster’s book because I remembered that she described what Daphne was doing and thinking when she was writing. She started to write The Flight of the Falcon in January 1964 at Menabilly when it was cold and raining and she struggled to capture the warmth and sun of Italy in her narrative. She no longer wanted to write straightforward stories, but wanted it to be an allegory, whose meaning was linked with the idea of psychological predestination. Interestingly she didn’t think it was as good as The Scapegoat and the British critics were less than enthusiastic when it was published in January 1965. Well, I enjoyed The Scapegoat years ago, but I’m not bothered about the critics – so far I’m finding it a good story.